Inside Michele De Luca-Verley’s La Maison de COCO
A Kitchen Atelier Designed for the Love of Chocolate
“I know this may sound strange, but every time I walked into the barn on the property, it would whisper to me, ‘This is where you need to be making your chocolates.’ I would respond, ‘I know; someday it will happen. Patience,’” recalls Michele De Luca-Verley. She bought the circa 1630 Portsmouth farmhouse with her husband, Cyril, when they decided Aquidneck Island was where they wanted to call home (prior years had been spent in New York, Boston and Cyril’s native France). When she learned the home that was known as The Durfee Tea House throughout the 19th century (an issue of Harper’s Monthly from the period named the proprietress, Ruth Durfee, “the Goddess of the Glen”), Michele had no doubt that it was where she was meant to be.
More than two decades ago—when Michele walked through the doors of a tea salon in the Auvergne region of France—chocolate changed the course of her life. Decadent chocolate towers covered in glass domes and elegantly wrapped packages presented on pedestals festooned the salon’s window for the Christmas season. She sampled the rich, velvety chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) and was transfixed.
“I was just, ‘What have I been missing all my life?’ [The chocolate] was overwhelming; it was so beautiful.”
She established the La Maison de COCO brand in 2002, playing alchemist by infusing chocolate produced for nearly a century in the small village of Tain L’Hermitage, France, with organic teas from familyowned estates in China, India, Thailand, Japan and beyond. Once she had perfected the art of the plum oolong dark chocolate truffle, she never looked back.
The early years of La Maison de COCO were equal parts business-to-business clients and catering events, but after nearly a decade Michele yearned to share the remarkable experience, joy and bond chocolate offers, in a more personal setting. In 2011, she opened a café on Newport’s famed Bellevue Avenue.
“I loved the theatrics of it. I felt like every day the curtains would go up and we would transport our clients to another world: to their childhood memories or to memories of their travels,” she says. All these years later, the aromas can still transport Michele to an exact place in time. Recently, after sharing on social media a just-made batch of seasalted caramel truffles made with organic vanilla bean black tea, she wrote: “As soon as I smelled the tea that I use for this truffle, I was transported back to Sunday late evenings when my family would watch classic films in front of a fire while my father smoked his pipe. His fresh tobacco smells just like this tea, sharing the same vanilla warmth and a slight smokiness on the nose.”
The café thrived for three years, captivating an enviable fan base while imparting its specialties with travelers from near and far. However, the whisper from the barn became a loud cry that Michele simply couldn’t ignore any longer. She took a year to re-evaluate the direction of La Maison de COCO and re-invigorate her soul. It was time to listen and create the atelier kitchen where she could craft her chocolates, host intimate culinary-themed gatherings and ship her specialties coast-to-coast.
Together with Cyril, an architect and her business partner, Michele navigated the oftcomplicated gauntlet of zoning boards, state agency requirements for commercial kitchens and garden-variety construction challenges. The couple kept loyal La Maison de COCO customers in the loop by periodically posting their progress on the brand’s social media channels. All the while, Michele remained committed to both chocolate and charity by hosting truffle and wine pairing events to benefit a range of local, national and global nonprofits. She got the idea after her uncle, Alex Calenda, one of the founders of the Rhode Island Academy of Wine, asked her to do a pairing presentation with him at one of the organization’s monthly meetings. Soon she was partnering with Ellen Slattery, owner of Gracie’s in Providence, to join her team by pairing La Maison de COCO truffles with wine for the annual March of Dimes benefit.
Last fall, the La Maison de COCO kitchenmeets- creative-hub celebrated with a grand opening. The cornerstone of the business is online sales, with a made-to-order menu featuring hand-rolled, hand-dipped, tea-infused truffles using heavy cream from Arruda’s Dairy in nearby Tiverton. She also makes Les Mendiants Dorés (dark chocolate disks topped with dried fruit and nuts with gold leaf), COCO chocolate bars and chocolate Carrés cookies (warmly spiced cookies made with nut flour, chocolate and eggs).
In this season of reawakening, La Maison de COCO presents the Spring/Summer Collection of tea-infused truffle flavors including Citron Oolong Bittersweet, enrobed in white chocolate that embodies the sweetness of lemon curd; La Vie en Rose, with a subtle expression of summer roses finishing with a hint of mint; and Berry Bramble, derived from dried berries from the summer harvest. These are just three of the near-dozen selections available à la carte or through her monthly subscription plan.
“I can spoil my clients with a chocolate surprise each month,” says Michele of her COCO subscribers. The treats are usually seasonal, “but I also take the opportunity to share new products. Many times the surprises are supplemented with items that are not found on the website but are signature café items.”
As La Maison de COCO continues to grow, so do plans to expand the atelier kitchen, which will likely include a pair of decks to take advantage of the barn’s bucolic setting. But for now, Michele continues to bask in the joy that only chocolate can bring. Her story proves that people, wine and chocolate can change the world.
“Historically, we see that chocolate and wine have been at the center of cultural celebrations, which allows for connection and dialogue,” says Michele. “Isn’t that what humanity really needs and craves at this time in our history?”
Andrea E. McHugh is a freelance writer who has written for the Hartford Courant, Baltimore Magazine, Daily Candy, Design Sponge, Providence Monthly and more. She resides in Newport.
For more information on how to order chocolates for delivery or how to organize a truffle and wine pairing, visit LaMaisonDeCOCO.com